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In Memoriam

William T.

A Lancer out of sight
Never out of mind

We are sorry to inform the Lee community and the class of 1968, that
Bill VanDoren died Sunday, January 20, 2019.

William Theodore Van Doren III, 70, of Albemarle County died peacefully at Hospice of the Piedmont in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Sunday, January 20, 2019, after sustaining a head injury during an accident while cutting firewood — one of his favorite outdoor activities.

Born on July 14, 1948, in Leesburg, Virginia, Bill was the oldest son of the late Theodore Van Doren and Helen Bezilla. He grew up in Lorton, graduated from Lee High School, and earned a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University. There he studied history and English, published and edited a national student publication, The Diode, rewrote issues of the magazine Reason, and earned early election to Phi Beta Kappa. Although Hopkins did not have a studio art program, Bill undertook his own study of oil painting and began selling original works.

After graduation, Bill (also known to friends as BVD) moved to New York to become an editor at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, where he handled day-to-day literary affairs for Norman Mailer, Arthur C. Clarke, P. G. Wodehouse, and many others. He relocated to Los Angeles and, while continuing to develop his visual art, ghostwrote or rewrote more than 50 books, starting with Meredith’s biography of George S. Kaufman, published by Doubleday. Bill’s professional film-writing credits include the first-ever screen treatment based on the discovery of the wreckage of the Titanic, drafted aboard the search vessel at Woods Hole. As a freelance journalist, he interviewed B. B. King, Don Cornelius, and others for Soul magazine, and as a singer–composer he earned performances on the BMI Songwriters Showcase at The Improv in Hollywood.

While in L.A., Bill created a poster challenging the city’s abandonment of its mass transit system; the work helped bring light rail to southern California and is displayed in several transportation museums. His next poster, opposing reinstatement of the military draft, was shown in the 1980 national touring exhibition Artists Versus World War Three, and again in 2006 by the California African American Museum. While working a variety of jobs ranging from scraping paint off parking lots to proofreading Popular Hot Rodding and Wild World of Skateboarding, he created the innovative poster-sized and hand-silkscreened periodical The Wall Paper, about which novelist Steve Erickson wrote: “The Word and the Image are one. The word is the image and the image is the word.”

Returning to Virginia, Bill became the founding editor and art director of Albemarle, and won first prize for magazine design in Virginia with its second issue, featuring his cover painting. He went on to edit various publications as a freelancer and was lauded by author Russ Linden for his “rare ability to sense what someone is thinking, offer thoughts, and get involved in the narration of a story without making it into his own. His use of words is a true art; his ability to raise the level of another’s work is a real gift.”

In 1995 he met Laura Owen Sutherland when she was hired to replace him at Carden Jennings Publishing (she became a full-time employee while he wanted to retain his freelance status; when the company added another full-time position, he accepted it). The two were married on the summer solstice, June 21, 1997, at St. James Chapel in Albemarle County. The following year, Bill founded the Van Doren Company, and, together with Laura, edited and designed publications for a variety of clients and published books such as Water Girl: Collected Poems & Short Stories of Melissa Jeanne Miller, Rebecca Fuller McGinness: A Lifetime by Florence Coleman, Wednesday Evenings & Every Other Weekend: A Guide for the Noncustodial Father by Daniel McClure and Jerry Saffer, and Before the Road: A Journey to Corolla by Peggy Lewis.

While continuing his work as a freelance proofreader for medical journals and an editor for various authors, he wrote his own fiction, including the ultra-short “The Last Page of My Great American Novel,” which won a regional NPR writing contest and was published in Streetlight in 2002. His magical novel 47 Minutes on Christmas Eve, described by Virginia Living magazine as “part Alice in Wonderland and part It’s a Wonderful Life,” blends everyday life with surreal imagery in a story about finding beauty and inspiration in an era of work–life imbalance.

Throughout all of these pursuits, Bill’s focus on his art never waned. He staged several multimedia performance art shows from 1985 to 1996, had multiple solo exhibitions locally from 1994 to 2016, and was invited to participate in the group show Transformation in Tribeca, New York, in 2018. Select works of his can currently be seen at the Annie Gould Gallery in Gordonsville. He is perhaps best known for his series of sunset paintings, including sunsets from every day for 11 consecutive years, from January 2006 through December 2016. (All 365 paintings from 2010 were shown at the Baker Gallery, Woodberry Forest, in 2011.) At the time of his death, Bill was working on a book about the series, Into the Sunset: Paintings and Notes from Four Thousand Nights. Describing his transition from representational to visionary painting, Bill wrote, “The more I allowed myself to forget what I already knew, or had seen, or had done, the farther I could go.” His art can be seen at

Bill’s creative works, whether writing, painting, or singing, reflect his belief in the interconnectedness — and beauty — of all things. While he both was at one with and revered nature, to him a telephone pole or a broken coffee cup could hold as much charm as a majestic skyscape; his broad perspective enriched the lives of all around him. His innate joyfulness, and desire to share that joy, was reflected in everything he did, whether preparing a culinary masterpiece, recording a custom song for a special occasion, or sketching a text rather than typing it — although his written messages were also things of beauty, characterized by his quick wit and his masterful use of the English language.

Among Bill’s passions, it’s difficult to exaggerate his love of nature and the great outdoors. From roaming the woods near his rural home as a child, to hiking at Philmont Scout Ranch as a teenager, to following his and Laura’s foxhound on rambling treks — or just enjoying breakfast on the front porch, which he did whenever weather permitted — Bill was both grounded and awed by the natural world around him. A tree could stop him in his tracks, he loved hearing fox calls in the field at night or hummingbirds zooming around the feeders, and snowstorms were magical. He was obsessed with weather, following multiple weather models for Charlottesville and his siblings’ cities, and he could predict with great accuracy how long it would be before the storm clouds on the horizon would bring rain. One of his greatest joys was picking wild blackberries on hot summer days; he could spend hours collecting them, and, if he and his clothes weren’t torn up by briars in the process, then he wasn’t doing it right.

Summertime also meant his beloved baseball. Bill was delighted to have the Nationals to root for, having grown up a Washington Senators fan, but, depending on the day, he may tell you that his favorite player was Satchel Paige, Roberto Clemente, Fernando Valenzuela, Pedro Martínez, Mookie Betts, or a host of others. He was also a devoted fan of Hopkins lacrosse, braving many cold, and sometimes wet or snowy, spring games to cheer the Blue Jays on.

Bill’s studies at Hopkins led to a lifelong fascination with world history, but especially the history of World War II, in which his father served. Modern music, from the roots of rock to today’s alternative, was also dear to Bill, not only as a performer, but also as a listener. A human jukebox whose repertoire included songs by artists from Chuck Berry to Mitski, he was an ardent fan of a broad variety of genres. And he himself had the extraordinary gift of being able to feel a song rather than merely sing it.

Bill was devoted to his family, friends, and pets, and quick to help a loved one in need or to embolden anyone in doubt. He recognized and celebrated individuality and was true to himself while encouraging others to be the same. He was an inspiration simply by being himself.

Bill is survived by his wife of 21 years, Laura; his brother Steve Van Doren and wife, Sandy, of Westminster, Maryland; brother Michael Van Doren and wife, Lori, of Live Oak, Texas; brother-in-law John Sutherland and wife, Susie, of Baltimore, Maryland; brother-in-law Robert Dias of Woodbridge, Virginia; niece Amy Pine and husband, Richard Ross, of Durham, North Carolina; niece Ashley Hanson and husband, Erik, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; niece Jody Zaruba and husband, Jason, of Ellicott City, Maryland; niece Miranda Van Doren and nephew Cooper Van Doren of Cedar Park, Texas; nieces Sydney and Grace Sutherland and nephew E. J. Sutherland of Baltimore, Maryland; great nieces Zoe Mae Patricia Pine Ross and Emory and Talia Hanson; and great nephews Bryce and Brady Zaruba. He was preceded in death by his sister, Emily Van Doren, and sister-in-law Mary Dias.

A memorial service to celebrate Bill’s vibrant life will be held on February 9, 2019, at Moss Vineyards in Nortonsville, Virginia. Visitation will be at 2:30 p.m. followed by the service at 3:30 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a memorial gift to the Shenandoah National Park Trust ( or the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Thomas Jefferson Area Branch (

To send condolences, please visit Teague Funeral Home ( or CaringBridge (